Portland Thorns fire head athletic trainer, assistant coach following NWSL investigations into misconduct

The Portland Thorns have fired head athletic trainer Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough following NWSL investigations into two separate incidents involving the staff members, the team announced Tuesday.

Soubrier was investigated by the NWSL for giving medication containing codeine to players at the team’s semifinal playoff match against the San Diego Wave on Oct. 22. Clough was investigated for providing an unwanted kiss to a player’s neck during the NWSL championship celebration on Oct. 29. Both incidents were self-reported by the Thorns to NWSL.

Claims against both Soubrier and Clough were substantiated by NWSL investigators in violation of league policy. The league recommended one year of unpaid leave for both Soubrier and Clough, but the club went further and terminated them.

“Portland Thorns FC remain committed to following all NWSL policies,” the Thorns said in a statement provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The club reported to the league and fully cooperated with the league’s investigation into the allegations of misconduct by head athletic trainer Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough. Upon receiving the NWSL’s final investigative findings, the club has terminated the employment of both Soubrier and Clough. The health and safety of the players is our utmost priority.”

Soubrier is the husband of Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn and was hired as the team’s head athletic trainer in 2019. The NWSL also found in its investigation that team doctor Breanne Brown provided Soubrier with a separate controlled substance at his request, but later felt uncomfortable with the decision and duty Soubrier it should not be administered. The league found Dr. Brown did not violate the law or league policy.

In the case of the medication containing codeine, it was administered to two players including one without informed consent, the league found.

“Soubrier was found to have administered the controlled substance to the players on multiple occasions without a prescription and physician supervision which is a violation of federal and state laws and league policy,” the league’s investigative report reads. “Further, Soubrier administered the medication to one of the players without her informed consent.”

Clough joined the club as an assistant coach under Mark Parsons in 2016 and remained on the staff through coach Rhian Wilkinson’s lone season with the Thorns. Claims of bullying behavior by Clough towards players were also investigated by NWSL but unsubstantiated.

Tuesday’s firings are the latest chapter in a series of scandals that have plagued the Thorns in the last 16 months, dating back to the revelation in 2021 that former coach Paul Riley allegedly sexually harassed and coerced former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly. Since then, the Thorns have faced multiple investigations, fired executives Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson, won a NWSL championship and watched Rhian Wilkinson abruptly resign, all culminating with Merritt Paulson stepping away as CEO and later announcing that he would sell the Thorns.

Just last month, Rhian Wilkinson — who led the Thorns to a title in her first season as coach — resigned after an NWSL investigation cleared her of an alleged relationship with player Emily Menges. The two had expressed mutual romantic feelings for each other via text message.

The Thorns were also fined $1 million by the NWSL for the club’s role in Riley’s alleged abuse of players.

Paulson has not provided an update on his efforts to sell the Thorns since announcing in December the club would be sold.

— Ryan Clarke, rclarke@oregonian.com, Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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